Richard Hamilton

The annunciation


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
Digital print on paper
Image: 954 × 680 mm
Presented by the artist 2006


The annunciation is an image created by digital collage, combining photography and painting in a complex sequence of actions. It presents a monochrome gallery interior, in which a painting of a naked, seated woman talking into a cordless telephone hangs on the wall. Within the painting the woman is illuminated by a white glow from a small lamp on an incidental wooden table beside her. Next to the woman and the lamp, the curtain is drawn on a window showing a view to a tree silhouetted against a dim blue light between day and night. The woman stares into space as she interacts with the telephone, her left hand casually playing with her blonde curls. The interior and the painting are derived from two separate photographs. The gallery space is taken from a photograph of the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in Dering Street, London, where Hamilton exhibited in the 1980s and 1990s. For an exhibition there in 1995, Hamilton photographed seven gallery wall sites in black and white and then digitally collaged colour transparencies of one of each of seven rooms in his home onto the walls so that they appear to be paintings hanging in the space. He then printed the collaged image onto canvases and these were hung on the walls, resulting in a double view of the gallery wall and its surrounding architectural features, framing the coloured image of the domestic interior. The wall space used in The annunciation was previously used as the background for a view into Hamilton’s bathroom in the painting Bathroom, 1994-5 (collection Shirley Ross Sullivan). The composition is a complex study in perspective, including wall surfaces and ceiling beams coming together at varying angles, a light fitting and an air vent, all anchored by an area of dark grey parquet floor. Hamilton modified the wall and ceiling details to create flawless gradations of grey tone.

The painting hanging on the gallery wall is derived from the colour transparency showing a corner of Hamilton’s bedroom, including a round wooden table and a wooden chair, that he used in the painting Bedroom, 1994-5 (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt) in the 1995 d’Offay show. After colour correcting the image to remove the sulphuric tungsten lighting tones, Hamilton combined it with a photograph that he had taken in 1997 of a model called Louise sitting in the same wooden chair. Hamilton has used Louise for several painted and photographic works, including A mirrorical return, 1998 (see Tate P78289). He removed a radiator under the window from the original transparency, and the telephone bed lying on the table next to the lamp in the 1997 photograph, and tweaked the shadows around the chair, before making a painted version of the image. He then photographed it and collaged it into the image of the gallery space, complete with a surrounding white frame. The resulting image superficially appears to be a real photograph of a painting on a gallery wall emphasising issues of visual representation.

Hamilton created The annunciation in response to the famous early renaissance fresco by Fra Angelico (c.1395-1455) painted in the corridor of the monastery of San Marco, Florence. Invited to exhibit in one of several venues in that city, Hamilton chose San Marco, where he considered that ‘some empty walls between the monks’ cells at the end of the monastery’s L-shaped corridor seemed a perfect place to hang a small group of paintings’ (Hamilton quoted in Painting by Numbers, p.53). He decided to exhibit images of interiors, a theme long central to his work, and selected two Bathroom pictures, the 1998 print, A mirrorical return, and a new image directly inspired by the monastery, The annunciation. Hamilton’s image quotes elements from Fra Angelico’s fresco (dating from 1430-32) in several ways. The renaissance image is set in a cloister; in it, Mary sits on a wooden stool between columns supporting a number of arches in the ceiling. Behind her, to her right, a door opens on a cell where a tiny window set in the wall is covered with an iron grille. The cloister is set in a walled garden, the hortus conclusus traditional to paintings of The Annunciation that represents Mary’s chaste womb. In Hamilton’s image the undecorated walls of the cloister with its ceiling arches – a space for spiritual contemplation – are given a contemporary incarnation as the cold white gallery space with jutting rectangular beams and light fittings. The angel Gabriel who speaks to Mary in the original (and in all traditional versions of this subject) has been replaced by the anonymous cordless phone of the contemporary world – suggesting an ironic comment on contemporary communication and the divine – and the hortus conclusus by the view out of the window to the silhouetted tree. The gridded separation of Hamilton’s window into panes formally echoes the grid of the metal grille covering the window in Fra Angelico’s cell, while the glowing white table lamp illuminates the stomach and womb of the contemporary Mary more than any other part of her body, providing the focal point of Hamilton’s image and emphasising the theme of spiritual impregnation.

Hamilton created The annunciation using the computer programmes Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop on a Mackintosh G5. It was printed on an Epson Stylus Pro 9800 printer using Epson UltraChrome K3 eight colour lightfast pigment inks on Somerset Enhanced Radiant White Velvet paper by Roderic Hamilton at Northend Farm, Oxfordshire. It was produced in an edition of sixty plus six artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is the fifty-ninth in the edition, which is distributed by Alan Cristea Gallery, London.

Further reading:

Richard Hamilton: Painting by Numbers, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 2006, pp.48-57, reproduced p.57 in colour.

Richard Hamilton: Retrospective: Paintings and Drawings 1937 to 2002, exhibition catalogue, MACBA, Barcelona and Ludwig Museum, Cologne 2003.

Richard Hamilton: New Technology and Printmaking, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 1998.

Elizabeth Manchester

June 2007

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